Toward a Real-World Application Architecture for Courts: A Component Model (Part I)

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Courts have been facing many challenges across budgetary and technology needs. Other than case management system (CMS) products and the infrastructure to support them, a large majority of courts have been cautious when adopting new technology for operations and services. Although there’s no adjustment bureau to help courts modernize, there is a court governance committee at the national level — the Joint Technology Committee (JTC) — that works to improve the administration of justice through technology.

The JTC is comprised of members from several leading court associations, including the National Center for State Courts (NCSC), the Conference of State Court Administrators (COSCA), and the National Association for Court Management (NACM). In partnerships with state and local court chief information officers (CIOs) and the vendor community, the JTC produces recommendations for court governance groups and helps courts understand how to best use technology. The JTC does this by developing and promoting technology standards for courts and by improving court processes and business practices through the use of technology.

The JTC also offers courts a way forward with NextGen Court Technology Standards (NextGen). NextGen takes a business approach to technology: Have a business vision and adopt technology to support it. Toward that end, the JTC produced the Court Capability Model and the Court Business Process (CBP) Model to help courts and vendors better understand court business processes and case types. Business processes identify and resolve cases or matters and accomplish court capabilities or functions. Critical elements of the CBP Model include a component design that promotes:

  • better modeling of the business processes that leads to more efficient automation and improved court productivity; and
  • case management system modules that support business processes that can be integrated and reused to more precisely meet the needs of court systems.

It’s hard to see another way forward for cautious courts — the component design offers a tried and true method. For years, enterprise computing has used a component-level architecture that communicates and shares data via application programming interfaces (APIs). This API-economy expanded in the enterprise when legacy applications failed to meet user needs for real-time, distributed and mobile applications. Now courts can follow suit with an application component model (ACM).

The ACM proposes that the best practice to implement court business functions uses a modular technology approach. Court technology leaders can view their computing environment not as a consolidated (read: monolithic) CMS, but as a software architecture comprising modular components, or building blocks. The blocks can be reused to adapt to new business processes or newly acquired to fill a technology gap.

The JTC identifies the following components of a traditional CMS: case manager, case participant manager, accounting or financial, scheduling or calendaring, and document or content management. Additional components add court capabilities and are sold separately. Add-ons include electronic filing services and payment processing, public portals, judicial tools, jury management, online dispute resolution, digital recording and compliance monitoring.

When court technology leaders identify acute court capabilities that require software components, vendors can understand the needs and develop product roadmaps to fulfill them. When parts become widely available from various vendors (assuming they can all communicate with one another) courts can mix and match best-of-breed components. The component architecture, however, does not mark the beginning of the end for CMS products.

Courts will extend their CMS platforms with modular components to satisfy new business functions to help courts modernize and satisfy user and performance requirements. CMS providers already provide open APIs and partner with third-party software providers to offer add-on components. But as new CMS applications with component-level architecture are introduced, current CMS products will have to re-engineer their applications to compete and agilely respond to court requirements, or they are destined to become legacy applications for archival purposes.

Stay tuned. Part II will put the ACM in JTC’s Court Technology Framework, discuss the benefits and burdens of a component architecture, and relay some lessons learned from enterprise computing.